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Building code boss calls for structural checks as Five quakes shake T&T in six weeks
National Building Code Committee chairman Shyankaran Lalla says a national structural assessment programme is urgently needed in Trinidad and Tobago to determine the earthquake readiness of all public institutions and relief centres. He is also calling on citizens to implement their own emergency evacuation plans and begin rehearsing them in the event of a major disaster.
Lalla’s call comes in the wake of five earthquakes, ranging from 3.8 magnitude to 4.9 magnitude, striking T&T within the last six weeks. The University of the West Indies’ St Augustine Seismic Research Unit recorded the last earthquake, a 4.8 magnitude, on Saturday morning, mere days after the fourth earthquake, a 3.8 magnitude, last Monday.
Yesterday, Lalla said the increased seismic activity was serious and citizens needed to heed the warning signs. “It is incumbent on each and every citizen to follow the recommendation by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODOM) and ensure that they perform drill simulation in their own homes and ensure that they are prepared in the likely event that a major disaster occurs,” he said.
“We should be concerned. The national community should be concerned. They should be focused and be prepared in light of what happened recently,” Lalla said. He called on the Government to partner with the T&T Board of Engineering, Association of Professional Engineers and T&T Institute of Architects to embark on a national structural assessment programme to test the earthquake readiness of buildings.
“Our major facilities, such as the hospitals, are underprepared and structurally unsafe,” Lalla said. “As such, it is strongly recommended that a structural assessment of the major the hospitals and the buildings to be used as earthquake shelters, schools and public buildings be undertaken, to ensure that these buildings can withstand the impact of a major seismic event and if not a major retrofitting exercise can be done based on the recommendations of the organisations,” he said.
He added that 80 per cent of the country’s buildings, as well as the petro-chemical sector, are vulnerable. Lalla suggested that T&T, like India, establish a disaster relief fund to ensure we have resources to rebuild if a disaster strikes. “If we have to learn from the lessons of Haiti the establishment of a disaster fund will certainly ensure that we have the necessary resources to deal with a disaster. So you can cushion the impact on the national economy,” he said.
Contacted for comment via text message yesterday, Housing and Environment Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal admitted that “the frequency of earthquakes in the region is increasingly unsettling.” He said, “The relevant agencies of Government, academia and private sector must launch a joint operation to ascertain our readiness and institute the full range of policies and programmes to mitigate the full effects of any impending challenges.” The minister assured Government is preparing.
“We are preparing by ensuring that evacuations and emergency escape procedures are in place,” he said. “We have been focusing on strengthening existing housing stock while ensuring that future building assets are earthquake resistance.” South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) chairman Anil Gosine also yesterday assured they were getting the San Fernando General Hospital disaster and earthquake ready.
“We have done an assessment of the buildings and the equipment and we are in the process of modifying some of the structures,” Gosine said. He said while they have started the process, there is still more work to be done to make the ageing hospital earthquake safe.
Chairman of the Office of Disaster and Preparedness (ODPM Dr Stephen Ramroop said citizens had a “lackadaisical” approach to disaster preparedness because we have not experienced a major earthquake or hurricane and “that is the concern.”
He said the OPDM has embarked on a “Let’s get ready” campaign to engage the public is disaster preparedness and on March 20 a major emergency drill will be conducted in conjunction with Latin American and Central American countries to test the readiness of emergency systems.
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